I’ve met up with Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist a number of times over the last 15 months to study necropsy reports, X-rays, photos and stories that I collect from folks about their chicken health issues. She refers to it as ‘show and tell’ and I aim to please by curating things of interest, sometimes oddities she’s never seen before.

Remember the old children’s song “Head and shoulders, knees and toes …”? Avian Pathology Cases: 8 was all about injuries and illnesses that affect the head. It appears I’ve amassed enough new cases that fit the bill so here’s a look at the nasty things that can affect our birds’ heads.

Bump On Duck Bill

I’m new to having a flock and one of my ducks developed this on her bill.  Could you help me out with this or let me know if this is normal? – Fisher King

Dr Bowes: No, this isn’t normal. The bill is made of spongy bone covered by keratin. The location is not consistent with a sinus issue. I’d investigate if there was something in her mouth pushing upwards. Is that spot soft (skin) or hard (bone)? How fast has it been growing? Does it bother her? I would recommend that you monitor the progress of the bump and, by that, I mean actually measure it at regular intervals to see if it is getting bigger and at what pace.

Impacted Nare

What is going on with my hen’s nostril?

Dr Bowes: This looks like a reaction to a foreign body. I’m concerned about the erosion of keratin around the nare. You can try to tweeze out the plug to see if you can remove it.

Eye Issue

I’m not sure if these pictures will interest you at all. I’m taking a wild guess it’s the ocular form of Marek’s Disease. She’s a 3-year-old Salmon Faverolle x Cream Legbar. I never noticed it before today because she appears otherwise fine. Her left eye is normal; the right eye has a bit of a grey film or colouring to it on the lower part of her pupil. The iris looks pale.  – Debra Watt

Dr Bowes: Her age is not appropriate for Marek’s Disease, which mostly affects younger birds (i.e. at age 10-12 weeks or around sexual maturity). It looks like an infiltrate in the iris (iritis) or part of an inflammatory process (uveitis) that might have originated in another part of the body. It could be a spontaneous primary eye tumour or a reaction to another issue. It doesn’t look like a trauma repair. I’m curious as to how long her eye has been that way and if it will change over time.

Eye Infection

I have two hens that got sick two months ago.  Their eyes were infected and I treated them with antibiotic eye drops and Denagard (antibiotic). They both ended up losing an eye. I have continuously removed the pus granule from this eye, which looks terrible like it’s just mashed pus crust inside the socket where the eyeball used to be. Once an eyeball has been lost is there healing? Is this problem going to go away? Is there something besides Denagard and Terramycin (eye medication) that I should be giving her? She’s eating and getting around fine but the area is hot and keeps filling with that yellow chunky stuff that I have to remove every other day. It’s the size of a peanut because the socket is empty. Should I euthanize this bird?  – Wendy Ansley

Dr Bowes: The active infection is close to the brain and the optic nerve, which can lead to meningitis. That area is incredibly inflamed and requires veterinary care to clean and decontaminate the eye socket. A vet would cut the top and bottom eyelids and sew the edges together to prevent the gap from collecting debris. Denagard won’t stop the infection. If you are unable to get professional help I would recommend humane euthanasia.

Bacterial Infection

My adult quail presented with lethargy, fluffed up, eyes closed. I debrided the spot on the surface and then removed the plug. The bird made full recovery. Is this a bot fly larva? – Amy Jean Broome

Dr Bowes: No that’s not a cuterebra larva. It’s caseous debris from what I suspect was a puncture, bite or penetrating injury (not pecking). It appears totally encapsulated which means it was at the resolutions stage (i.e. wouldn’t get bigger). That you were able to remove it without it bleeding was amazing.


I had a house sitter who took care of all my animals for three weeks while I was on vacation. I came home to this chicken; what is wrong with her and what can I do to help her? – Jacqui Miller

Dr Bowes: That is the chronic form of cholera, a bacterial infection. Have a vet prescribe antibiotics (penicillin).

Bacterial Infection

My hen has slightly swollen wattles and it looks like her neck and chest are swollen as well. She was perfectly fine earlier today, other than it’s hot outside. She has a tiny mark on face but can’t find any other injuries. Is this possible from overheating? – Tina Berry

Dr Bowes: I would explore this as a bacterial infection and have a vet prescribe antibiotics (penicillin).

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

These images show how fast this mass has grown over a period of two weeks. It started way past the eye and has slowly consumed it. I’ve given him penicillin injections (sixth & last injection yesterday), rinsed with saline, applied ointment, fed turmeric, oregano and red pepper flakes, and occasionally put apple cider vinegar in his drinking water. He is otherwise acting normal so I’m not culling him. The blood is from me poking gently with needle to try to figure out more about it. – Crystal Gilliam

Dr Bowes: That is a proliferative mass typical of squamous cell carcinoma. There’s ulceration, a secondary infection and loss of sight. A vet could explore the mass, but I would recommend humane euthanasia.

Bitchin’ Chickens: This rooster died shortly after the photos were taken.


Caseous: cheeselike, especially in appearance, smell, or consistency

Keratin: a fibrous protein forming the main structural constituent of hair, feathers, hoofs, claws and horns.

Proliferative: Proliferation is the growth of tissue cells. In many diseases, it is abnormal. Cancer cells are very prolific because they have high rates of cell division and growth.

Ulceration: The formation of a break on the skin or on the surface of an organ

One of the things Dr Bowes would like to convey is she doesn’t take recommending euthanasia lightly. Many of the cases we see here are not just about quality of life issues, but actually living with significant levels of pain. Just because chickens are able to hide their pain or don’t go around screaming, doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. That’s a myth we as chicken keepers tell ourselves to make us feel better – often because we don’t have the knowledge or resources to make things better. If your bird is in pain without a realistic prognosis for recovery don’t prolong their suffering.

Well that wraps up another edition of Show & Tell With Bitchin’ Chickens and Dr Bowes. I hope that it’s been a learning experience for you.

Thanks again to Dr Vicki Bowes for her willingness to share her wealth of knowledge and experience to build capacity and skills in small flock keepers.

Featured photo: Abriana Humphress

If you’d like help with a case drop me a line using the ‘contact’ button on my home page. Remember to wear gloves, take good close up photos from several angles and supply us with plenty of information (e.g. timelines, symptoms, medications, general flock health, etc) so we’re able to more accurately pinpoint what’s going on.

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Everything You Need To Know About Small Flock Chickens & More

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